Director of Educational Activities
How To Become a Director of Educational Activities
The Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Director of Education, Jamie Allen, says, “I wear many different hats, as most Education Directors do, but basically I’m responsible for the development and implementation of all our education programs. Specifically that means youth concerts for school children, family concerts for family audiences, and in-school programs. We have chamber groups that go into the schools. [There’s a lot of] organizing. Sometimes [I’m] teaching or finding the right people to do master classes. I conduct student orchestras and arrange for all the pre-concert speakers. (We call them Performance Preludes.) I have a roster of speakers who come in and do pre-concert lectures. We have an instructional program called Young Strings for minority students underrepresented in the field of classical music and I oversee it.”
Within the orchestra, the Director of Educational Activities works with the Conductor, Concertmaster, Section Leaders, Section Members, Orchestra Manager, Director of Development, and Director of Public Relations. In the wider community, he or she works with school Music Teachers, students, and employees of other local arts and educational activities when partnership opportunities arise.
Landing an Intern role with an orchestra is a smart way to learn about the different positions available in the artistic, operations, and administrative branches of the group. Time spent performing with an orchestra as a Section Member also gives valuable experience to future Directors of Education. Many begin their careers by assuming an Education Coordinator position before applying for more senior roles and eventually working their way up to Director status.
Education & Training
Orchestral Education Directors are, fittingly, highly-educated individuals. Most hold master’s degrees, usually in Performance, Education, or a closely-related subject. “My training was in Composition,” Allen says. “As a rule, that forces you into a lot of different fields, between teaching, composing, performing, and writing about music. All those things are expected of Composers so I found all my background there was very helpful — but I know I’m in the minority of my colleagues. There are a few others with Composition backgrounds but more of them have been musicians in orchestras. For me, that background worked out very well because it required one to be very immersed in a wide range of musical presentations: performing in many kinds of venues and that kind of thing. These days a Music Education degree could certainly be good as well because those programs are getting better and better.”
Experience & Skills
Administrative and managerial experience with performing arts organizations are important for aspiring Education Directors. Experience as a musical performer will also help Directors of Education to understand the strengths and challenges of the orchestra. “I find that I draw upon my writing skills quite a lot,” Allen says, “so if somebody has that in their skill set that comes in quite handy, whether it’s writing grant narratives or articles for the program book. It’s always very helpful in this kind of position.”
“You would definitely have to play well with others,” Allen says. “Collaboration is a lot of what an education position is about. Within the organization, you work directly with musicians, donors, volunteers, other staff members, students, and teachers, so it’s finding ways they can all work together so everyone is on the same page and going towards the same goal. Outside the organization I’m always doing collaborations with the Museum of Arts or the zoo; that’s really important to keep it relevant and vibrant so the community feels like, ‘Yes, this is a part of who we are and what we do.’”
While many other positions within an orchestra demand employees be on hand over weekends and evenings, this isn’t the case for an orchestra’s Director of Education. Allen explains, “The education department as a whole tends to be a little less [heavy on] nights and weekends than other operations positions just because what we do focuses on the school day. There are exceptions to that. The musicians work weekends and nights, but we do it a bit more sporadically.”
If you’re entering the workforce and hope to someday work in a Director of Education role, there are a couple different routes open to you. When keeping an eye out for open positions in an orchestra’s education department, Allen says what’s available “depends on the size of the orchestra. There are Coordinator positions that are an entry-level position in major orchestras throughout the country. With smaller orchestras, that tends to be less and less the case; at that level Education Directors can also be the Executive Director. If you’re wanting to get into this position, it doesn’t matter what size of orchestras you get into. Find an entry-level job that will help you follow that passion. I don’t know of an orchestra that doesn’t have some kind of educational outreach; even community orchestras find it to be an essential part of their mission. It’s not just orchestras — there are other kinds of arts organizations, whether it be in dance or chamber music — those skills do transfer because a lot of the job has to to with developing curriculum around creativity and artistic administration. Those are the two most essential elements of this type of job.”
Directors of Education receive a regular salary, plus benefits like health/dental insurance, paid time off, and sick leave. The rate of pay varies based on the prestige of the orchestra and its budget.
Unions, Groups & Associations
“The League of American Orchestras would be the most helpful in terms of resources and conferences,” Allen advises. “They also have special artistic administration scholarships and programs for people who want to get into the field. It’s in their self-interest to make the field as well-trained as possible, so they put a lot of their emphasis into the nurturing, training, and discovering of people interested in going into this kind of work.”
- “Try to get performance experience so you know what that’s like and what makes that successful.
- Also get classroom experience so when you’re developing programs for Teachers and students you’re not working in a vacuum.
- Be able to speak the language of Teachers. It’s really important to be able to speak the languages of musicians, Teachers, and students. Being able to bridge those two sides are really important.”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Intern so you know what it feels like and what it looks like.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“This is coming from interviews I’ve had with people in the education department over the last ten years. Often times I’ll get somebody who is a Music Teacher in a school situation. Maybe they’re a very good Music Teacher, but that’s all their experience has been and often they’re burnt out from that. They want to get out of the classroom and do something else. That’s not what I’m looking for. First of all, because I’m not sure that’s the right reason to hire them and second of all, that’s just one side of the picture. If they come in with no experience with a professional performing arts organization, [it’s not helpful.] It doesn’t have to be an orchestra; it could be a venue. They need that kind of professional experience to really build on — not just the classroom [experience].”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“I think it’s the first thing you asked which is, ‘What do you do?’ Sometimes people are confused and think I teach artists to play their instruments. Well, if they’re with orchestras they already know how to play their instruments really well.
That [answer] also changes from orchestra to orchestra because, honestly, in each orchestra, the job of Education Director reflects that specific person. What I do really reflects my specific strengths. If I retired tomorrow and someone new came in, that would be difficult. They’d have to tweak things to go with their strengths. I can see the same thing with my colleagues across the country.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“I talked about building partnerships both within and outside the organization; let’s talk a little bit about what my learning curve was. When I first started here ten years ago I had very little corporate experience. My experience was all on the artistic and academic side and that was a real learning curve for me. I made a lot of mistakes, mostly with communication. One, in taking the initiative and starting conversations and two, knowing where to go with those conversations and having all the right people on the bus. I had a lot of autonomy the first year or so which could be good, but sometimes wasn’t, because then people didn’t know what I was doing. So I think communication is really key.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“It’s being driven. It’s knowing what my ultimate goal is and being really creative and flexible in getting there because the landscape changes around us. [For example], there are different Conductors that come in and they have a different idea of how they want things to go or the political landscape in your community changes — so it’s being really flexible on what your ultimate objective is.”
- 1Multiple. "Director of Religious Activities and Education Salaries in United States". Glassdoor. published: Apr 1, 2013. retrieved on: Dec 17, 2019
Jamie Allen is the Director of Education for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.